Happiness And Being Okay With Anything

In thinking about the people I know or know about who seem to be extremely happy, I’ve noticed one thing they all seem to have in common:  they all seem to be “okay” with almost anything happening.  In other words, they aren’t afraid of what might happen in the future, they aren’t filled with regret about the past, and they aren’t too concerned with the discrepancy between the way things are and the way things could be.

Each of these has a different take on things, however.  For example:

  • Some of them have a religious belief that there is a God who loves them and is taking care of everything.  They believe that life may have ups and downs, but in the end, everything is going to be downright wonderful — they have found out a deep truth about the universe and are part of it, they will live forever in a wonderful place, and there will be no end to enjoying the delights of the universe.  The bad things that may happen in the short term are part of a bigger picture which involves their every desire being fulfilled.
  • Others believe that we live forever through reincarnation or through some other extension of life beyond this one.  They believe that the purpose of life is to learn and grow to be better and better beings.  All of the bad things that happen in life are in reality opportunities to learn and grow.  In this way, life is like a giant training program, helping us reach higher and higher forms of existence.
  • Still others believe that the only thing that is “real” is the present moment.  The future and the past are illusions — only the present moment exists.  Additionally, the idea that each individual has a separate unique existence is incorrect, and everything is a part of the same whole.  They believe then that there is only this present experience, right now — there is no past or future, and no self.  Therefore, there is nothing to worry about or regret, and no “self” to “have things” or “have problems”.

I can see how each of these could lead to happiness.  In effect, with each of these, things are great, and they are great whatever might happen in life.

Well I would like to be extremely happy as well (of course!), and “being okay with anything” seems to lead to happiness.  There is just one problem, which is that I don’t believe that any of the above beliefs are… actually true.  It’s not that I don’t want to believe them (they all sound very nice), it’s just that I think the evidence is against them, believing in science and its findings as I do.

So a few days ago I decided to try just imaging that I am okay with anything happening, without any belief system backing it up.  Whenever I would have an anxious thought about something bad happening, I would just try to imagine that I was fine with any worst-case scenario happening.  Including, for example, such normally unspeakable things as:  being murdered on the street on my way home from school, people I love dying, forgetting my own name during introductions at an important school meeting, having other people hate me, losing my vision, etc., etc.

I’ve found in the past that there is often a sort of “beginner’s luck” when trying a new technique for feeling good.  By this, I mean that I sometimes hear about a new technique, imagine that it might just work, try it out, and find that amazingly it does seem to work.  It works for a short time, that is, and then seems to lose its effectiveness with further use.  This makes me suspect that just believing in a technique might make it work, even if there isn’t really anything to it.

Having said that, I did actually find that doing this “imagining that I’m okay with anything happening” seemed to work — incredibly well, actually.  I found that I could actually convince myself that I was okay with anything happening, and I found myself feeling… really happy.  In fact, the first two days of trying this I felt happier than I’ve felt in a long time, and even walked around with a ridiculous grin on my face some of the time.

I said this worked the first two days.  Well, now I’m in day three, and I have to say it hasn’t been working so well today, so far.  Nothing big, but basically a lot of anxiety has come back, and I haven’t been able to get rid of it with this technique, or get that great feeling back.

So unsurprisingly, this technique isn’t an easy, magical technique that makes you suddenly feel great for the rest of time.  But given how I felt the first two days of trying it, I feel like there may just be something to it.

37 Responses to Happiness And Being Okay With Anything

  1. E says:

    In “Happiness and Being Okay with Anything”, you state that you do not believe in a loving God, reincarnation/life extension, or present moment/same whole thinking because “the evidence is against them, believing in science and its findings as I do”. Could you provide a couple of examples of scientific findings that argue against the existence of God?

    • Jason says:

      Hi E, and thanks for asking about this. A classic topic! A few of the reasons I (personally) think the “evidence is against” God, reincarnation, etc.:

      * Massive evidence supporting the view of the world as described by the laws of physics, and zero credible evidence (in my view) of anything ever happening contrary to those laws. This means, no credible evidence of miracles, ghosts, extra-sensory perception, etc. To me, this suggests that everything in the universe happens according to physical laws. In other words, no evidence for anything but a physical world.

      * Overwhelming support for the theory of evolution. This is secondary in importance (and is a subset of the first point), but this suggests to me that people, animals, etc. are the result of physical processes, and seems to contradict any idea of any supernatural role in the development of life.

      * Neuroscience suggests that everything we think, feel, and do is simply our (physical) brain in different configuration. This is another secondary point (and also a subset of the first), but it suggests that again *we* are physical. “Morality”, as described by many religions, doesn’t really make sense according to this view.

      Again, my main reason is that we have lots of evidence that things happen according to the laws of physics (particle colliders, etc. — hundreds of thousands of experiments), but no credible evidence of anything happening outside the laws of physics. To me, the evidence seems to be highly in favor of the physical world being all that exists. I have many other thoughts on why specific individual religions don’t seem to make sense, but that’s another topic.

      I’ll also say that of course I could be wrong about any of this — and I welcome any opposing points of view!

  2. Scott Slaughter says:

    “The only thing that is real is what is being experienced in this moment right now. Everything else exists in thought only.”

    “Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience — to appreciate the fact that life is complex.”

    First, I’ll say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your essay on “being okay with anything.” I’d like to briefly mention how I stumbled on to it.

    I noticed in the comic strip ,”Zits,” that Jeremy eats out of a bowl with a zig-zag pattern, and wondered if this was an homage to Charles Schulz, creator of the comic strip, “Peanuts,” like the lampshades in “Pearls Before Swine.” My Google search led me to a wikipedia article on Schulz, and at the end of the article there is a reference to a book called “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” by Robert L. Short.

    I then looked at an article about another book by Short, entitled “Something to Believe in: Is Kurt Vonnegut the Exorcist of Jesus Christ Superstar?” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Something_to_Believe_in:_Is_Kurt_Vonnegut_the_Exorcist_of_Jesus_Christ_Superstar%3F) I was surprised to see that Short’s premise mirrors my own view of religion, and while I count myself as a follower of Jesus Christ, I reject the notion that God is anything but a perfectly loving, just, and merciful entity — unlike many “Christians” I know, and contrary to the concept of the moralistic, “reward-punishment” God that I was introduced to as a child.

    I then started reading an excerpt of “The Gospel According to Peanuts” in Google Books and found a reference to Psalm 73:19 and to T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” on page 76, so I looked up both and studied both the psalm and the poem. This got me thinking about my own view of reality, existence, and the present. Short’s understanding of heaven and hell, and Eliot’s understanding of the heaven and hell of the present moment, folded neatly, I felt, with how I understand the universe.

    As I was comparing, in my mind, Short’s faith in God to existential nihilism, I recalled a line from a song by the industrial-rock band “Skinny Puppy:” “Now is the only thing that’s real.” When I searched that phrase in Google, I discovered that it had been uttered by none other than the notorious murderer Charles Manson. I thought it bizarre that such a profound perception into the nature of reality could simultaneously be held by a man of love and a man of hate.

    Finally, I searched for variations of Manson’s phrase and found your blog and this essay.

    I’m not sure why all that is relevant, except to describe the “configuration” of my mind as I read your essay, but what I really want to say about it is that I don’t think you fully appreciate the truly strange and awesome universe that science is discovering, and that I believe God created. As an avid follower of quantum physics (I work at the NIST Center for Neutron Research), astrophysics, cosmology, and the like, I’m finding out that there very well may be other dimensions to our physical universe that we simply haven’t explored, and that our own universe may only be one sub-universe in much greater “multiverse” that could contain an infinite number of other universes, in which the laws of physics and nature are not the same as our own. The “Big Bang” that our universe began with may be one of countless numbers of big bangs that have occurred and are continuing to take place. The natural, physical laws, the notions of time and space that we are accustomed to, are merely illusions that cannot be relied upon to inform any conclusion for or against the existence of God because those laws may be vastly different than we, as human beings, are capable of perceiving, just as we cannot see or experience the six or so extra dimensions predicted by string theory, or just as a “flat-lander” living in a 2-D world cannot comprehend a third dimension of space.

    Science also points to an interconnectedness in the universe that goes beyond the bizarre, with concepts such as quantum superposition, causality violation, and new theories about time that suggest that everything is happening at once at all points of space. I can’t delve into this too deeply because it is way too far beyond me, but it certainly fills me with awe to think about.

    While I would agree that there is no physical evidence to prove the existence of God, I would counter that this is the whole point of faith. If there were solid evidence, faith would be unnecessary, and anyone who believed — as I do — that proof removes all doubt about the truth of something, would be unable to freely choose to believe in God and Jesus of their own free will. This would rob me of my faith, so I am certain that proof of the existence of God will never be discovered, and God would not want it revealed in this lifetime.

    I understand enough about neuroscience and have read enough about current theories of consciousness, the limbic system, and the material nature of spirituality in the brain to know that people who claim to have spiritual experiences may be experiencing something that is no less physical than the keyboard I am typing on right now. This also does not reduce my faith because I personally do not have a faith that hinges on such “transcendental” experiences.

    Your comment about evolution is a little disturbing because it belies a real lack of understanding on your part of what Jesus’ believers actually believe in, and this isn’t your fault — it is the fault of people like me who follow the teachings of Jesus but do not adequately explain why. In short, I will say that people who take everything in the Bible literally, and believe that God intervened in creation through “magic” powers in seven axial rotations of the earth, are ignorant fools who have been misled. Tragically, these kinds of believers miss the point about God’s truth as revealed in His Word and misunderstand the message of God’s saving grace. More tragic still is the effect this has on people who think that all followers of Christ have this same mind-set, which prevents them from acquiring the blessing of knowing that they are loved by God — the greatest blessing there is. I’ve known several people who reject evolution and Big Bang cosmology in my travels, and I can’t understand how people with a scientific background — I worked with them in my job as a nuclear reactor operator in the U.S. Navy — can turn a blind eye to the obvious truth about nature and the physical world.

    Regarding reincarnation, I can only say that I know that my DNA pattern, while finite, is unique, and even if it weren’t, I would know that my soul is unique. I have triplet daughters, two of whom are identical. Their DNA is identical, but they are very, very different little people. Both wonderful, and both unique. On that basis, I simply refuse to believe that my essence is not my own and that I might have to share it with a cow in some other lifetime, and unless there is scientific evidence otherwise, my philosophy on this point will not waver. I also don’t believe that our mission in life is to attain our own enlightenment because it is a purely selfish goal (more on that later).

    What is real? What does exist? Is there a “self” that exists, or is consciousness an illusion? I don’t know any of the answers, but I do know that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit exist, and that my soul exists, because I have an innate faith that those things exist.

    I believe that if one’s sole aim in life is to be okay with anything that happens, to be happy just for the sake of being happy, one will ultimately be disappointed unless that happiness is directly derived from a power greater than oneself. There is an inherent paradox to happiness: doing things that bring true happiness, such as acts of selflessness, makes one happy, which is a selfish goal. This paradox is central to your quandry in life, in my view. And, in my view, it is one that can only be reconciled by faith in God.

    I’m out of time, but I wish you well in your journey, because really, that’s all it is for anyone. No one — not even the Dalai Lama — is perfectly happy, and we are all simply on the road of life in this world. The path of faith — the road less traveled — leads to happiness, to that moment at the end of our life where fear and doubt cease to be, where heaven is. The path of faith IS happiness.

    So, that’s what I think. God bless.

    Scott Slaughter

    • Jason says:

      Hi Scott, thanks for the comment, I can tell you’ve thought about this quite a lot. (And I appreciate the “Worlock” reference, love that song and haven’t thought about it in awhile.) There are a number of things I could comment on, I’ll give a try on two of them:

      First, the idea that lack of evidence makes “faith” necessary, and that (if I’m understanding you right), something called “faith” is a good thing, and we would be robbed of an opportunity to have “faith” if we actually had evidence for God (or whatever is out there). I think what you’re saying is similar to an idea I’ve seen commonly in religious (and perhaps American) culture — the idea that something called “faith” is a virtue, a valuable thing. I keep putting “faith” in quotes, because it’s difficult to get a straight answer about what it might actually be. The best grasp I can get at of what most people effectively seem to mean when they say “faith”, is simply thinking something is true which either goes beyond the evidence you have, or which contradicts the evidence you have. Of course, nothing is certain in life, and we all have to make our best guess at what the world is like, with incomplete evidence. This is not what is meant by “faith” I don’t think — but rather, significantly going beyond the evidence to believe something we have very little evidence for, or even in fact believing something which contradicts the evidence. To me, it seems like we should believe what the evidence suggests is most likely to be the case — not more, not less, not different from what the evidence says. Sure, there will be many cases where the evidence is inconclusive, and we’ll have to make guesses, but in these cases our guesses should be consistent with what evidence we do have, and appropriately tentative. In my view, “faith” as so defined is in fact, not a virtue, but the opposite of a virtue — a most grievous sin, so to speak — one of the worst things you could do. Believing things that are inconsistent with the evidence seems to be the perfect recipe for being incorrect. And of course, one final point — if you’re going to have faith (which by definition is not based on evidence) — how do you decide *what* to have faith in? If you base it on evidence, then it’s not faith. If you don’t base it on evidence, then you might as well pick what you’re going to have faith in randomly — it could be Jesus, or Mohammad, or Zoroastrianism, or the Easter Bunny, you have no way to distinguish between them if you’re not using evidence.

      Secondly, I’d like to address the idea that there may be more to the universe than we now know — other universes, deeper laws of physics than we now know, etc. I think this is right — there almost certainly will be more aspects of the universe that we discover, and new laws of physics, etc. We certainly don’t “know it all” at the present moment. While I grant that it is *possible* for a new discovery to greatly change our view of things, my sense is that it is highly unlikely that any new discoveries will give evidence for anything like the belief systems of traditional religions. I think this because any new discoveries will have to be consistent with what we already know — and we already have (in my view) overwhelming evidence that all of “life” and human behavior is the result of physical processes, which is incompatible with religious views of morality and moral agency. And I don’t believe quantum physics will save us here — quantum physics adds to (Newtonian) determinism an element of chance, but this means we now have randomness along with fully-specified processes, neither of which is anything close to “non-physical consciousness affecting the physical world” or “free will”. I guess my point is I think the traditional views of moral agency have been strongly shown to be incorrect, and discovering new universes or deeper laws of physics does not change that.

      Again, thanks for the comment Scott, and would love to hear any further thoughts on these important questions.

  3. Scott Slaughter says:

    It’s funny — I agree with you on nearly every point. The only one I disagree with is your definition and understanding of what I referred to as “faith.” To me, faith means believing in something for which there is no proof. My faith is of the ultimate kind: there isn’t a shred of evidence anywhere.

    I only have faith in one thing. It’s not a building that people go to every Sunday to feel superior to others. It’s not some dusty old book that is so completely out of touch with postmodern culture it makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs. My faith is in the one and only true God, the creator of all things, whether that be the universe, the multiverse, the membranes, or whatever; and is all things, including every quark, every boson, every rock, every turd, every alien turd, every crocodile, and every human being on this planet; and knows everything, which some would say infers an intelligence, but I disagree because I believe God has no intelligence. He IS intelligence, all of it. God is everything.

    This is the only God that exists, and it is the only God that could possibly exist, and that is certain from every logical angle you could possibly use to examine the issue.

    If you can point to any physical evidence that suggests that God does not exist, I would love to hear about it. Even if we knew everything there was to know about the physical universe, and knew how it came to be, and knew why it came to be the way it came to be, we STILL would not be able to know the answer to the question of why it exists. It is simply unknowable, and I think any scientist with any integrity would agree. If we acknowledge that we exist, then we must acknowledge that the universe exists, and then we must acknowledge that God exists. The only way to rule out the possibility of the existence of God is to rule out the possibility of our own existence. Which is what my best friend, Steve, did when he took his own life a year ago.

    If the universe has no creator, and is purely deterministic, and I have no free will, and I have no ability to make any choices or decisions about anything that I do, or say, or think, then I’m glad I am who I am. I’m glad that I am an “automoton-of-the-universe” that is more inclined to love than hate, more concerned with others than hisself, and happier to do good than to do wrong.

    But you may be right and I may be wrong. Either way, I have my faith, and the joy and peace that comes with it.

    Blessings –

    Scott

    • Jason says:

      Scott, I salute your bold “without a shred of evidence” decision to believe in God (and I’m not being sarcastic). I remember in an episode of X-Files (one of the few I watched) that Mulder (I think) has a poster on his office wall with a fuzzy UFO-like image on it and the text “I want to believe”. I identify with this in that I “want to believe” in some higher intelligence / God out there who created everything and knows me personally, and that there will be life after death, etc. It strikes me as kind of heroic, in a sense, to just believe in this without any evidence as it sounds like you’re doing. In my own case however, as much as I’d like to believe, I simply think the evidence is much in favor of it not being true. For me personally, believing something because it makes me feel good isn’t something I want to do, and for better or worse, I’ve decided to try to “believe” what I most think is true, regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant I find that truth.

  4. Scott Slaughter says:

    Got to thinking, and had a question for you –

    I agree with the statement that we have “overwhelming evidence that all of ‘life’ and human behavior is the result of physical processes” but I disagree that there exists any incompatibility between that and belief in God. When you say that our scientific understanding of the universe around us isn’t compatible with “religious views of morality and moral agency,” what do you mean? I don’t know what religious views of morality you are referring to, but it sounds like I wouldn’t like them, if they aren’t compatible with what we know to be true about life, the universe, and everything (unless the answer turns out to be 42). What “traditional views of moral agency” are incorrect, in your view? Any views held by so-called “religious” people that don’t square with physical reality would have to be considered false by any reasonable person.

    • Jason says:

      I think “we” are the result of evolutionary processes that are based on survival of the fittest (roughly), and have nothing to do with anything like what’s “right” or “fair” or “good”, etc. We have brains that reward us for certain things and punish us for other things, because of evolutionary forces. Additionally, there is no non-physical “I” that “makes decisions”, but rather, every decision we make is computed by our physical brains. To quote Shakespeare (I think), “nothing’s good or bad but thinking makes it so” — and the idea of “good” or “bad” is physically computed by our brains, and we could build machines which had completely opposite ideas of good and bad.

      I guess my point is that the only idea of “good” and “bad” that makes any sense (to me) is one that is relative to computations made in someone or other’s physical brain, and those physical computations could be built to be very different than they are. There is no inherent “good” or “bad” in any situation, only good or bad relative to the evaluation of someone’s nervous system.

      Thus (to me), traditional ideas of “morality” as something inherent out there in The Universe, and not relative to nervous systems, makes no sense.

  5. Scott Slaughter says:

    Again, I don’t know what you mean, exactly, when you say, “traditional ideas of ‘morality’.” What do you think the traditional ideas of ‘morality’ are? My idea of a traditional idea of morality is, “love others as you love yourself.” And that is pretty much it. How is that not better than the alternative?

    If you’re on a quest for personal happiness in a physical world, start with that little bit of ‘morality.’ I just don’t see how it could hurt.

    • Jason says:

      Ah, I’m not suggesting that doing things for others isn’t a good idea or won’t lead to happiness. In fact, it may very well be that caring for and helping others can create some happiness. My only point was that a central idea of many religions seems to be codes of conduct which are defined independently of any consequences in the physical world, and that this doesn’t seem (to me) to square with what we know about the physical world from science (not to mention being, in my mind, conceptually meaningless). I was arguing that teachings of some religions (re: morality) don’t seem to square with what matches the evidence about the world, therefore this casts doubt on the truth of those religions. I wasn’t arguing against any particular practices, and in fact I suspect that doing things for other *can* be a source of happiness.

  6. E says:

    If you agree that the universe had a beginning, what is your view of what happened in the beginning?

    • Jason says:

      Great question. I personally think some version of the Big Bang is likely to be roughly true. However, the whole idea of “beginning” gets into the complicated issue of “time”, and I think there is much we don’t know about the very early stage of the universe. And a great (I think related) question I have is “why is there something rather than nothing?”

      Having said that, I don’t think saying that “God created it” solves this problem. For then we’ve got the question “where did God come from” or “why is there a God rather than nothing?” Marcel Kinsbourne calls this “kicking the problem upstairs” — you’ve “solved” one question, only to have the same question appear in a different place.

      Is it somehow “surprising” to think there would be an entire universe just there, on its own? Yes. Is it somehow “surprising” to think there would be a God just there, existing on his (?) own? Yes, and perhaps even more so. I think there are other issues also here about the idea of something being “surprising” to us (and what that might mean physically in our brains, as well as this idea of “causality”, but I’ll save those for another time.

  7. Scott Slaughter says:

    I have no view. I cannot have a view, or an opinion, or because what happened can’t be determined by a belief. It can only be determined through observation, via what we call the scientific method.

    And so far, it has been able to come up with a real answer. We can get very, very close to seeing the instant of the big bang with particle accelerators, and these results are confirmed by cosmologists, who can leak into the distant past of our universe, thanks to the speed of light being a fixed constant.

    We know what happened after about 1*10E-32 seconds, but we can never see the actual moment of the big bang — the beginning of the universe — because it is in the Planck Epoch.

  8. Scott Slaughter says:

    Sorry — cosmologists can PEEK into the distant past of our universe (the wife was distracting me). They have done that using the WMAP probe, to map the cosmic microwave background, and with various telescopes and instruments such as NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

    This is really a fascinating question, though, because it’s also philosophical. What was the First Cause? If everything in the universe moves because something caused it to move first, then what caused the first motion? What was the prime mover of the universe? The Greeks loved this stuff.

    If you’re wondering whether or not I believe in the creation myth of the Bible, that is a categorical “no.” I see much of the Old Testament as grand allegory, which was never intended to be taken as a literal understanding of the creation of the universe, the earth, mankind, etc. However, while it may not be literally true, I believe there is truth in it — that it tells us about God and helps us understand the true nature of God: Ultimately, one way or another, He is responsible for all that exists.

    I know a lot of Christians (I do not identify myself as a Christian) who do take the Bible completely literally, and it really saddens me. They miss the point, they don’t really understand what it all means, and they drive the masses away from the true message of Jesus — that we were put here to love everyone as we love ourselves. That’s the true source of happiness, even if it is nearly impossible to accomplish. But life is a journey, and for me, the joy in it comes from doing my best to follow the path of Jesus Christ.

    Scott

  9. E says:

    How did you conclude that the creation account in the Bible is untrue?

    • Jason says:

      To me, there seem to be some large areas in which the Biblical account of creation doesn’t match what we know about the world, a few of which are:

      * Age of the universe appears to be billions of years old instead of tens of thousands (we see light from stars millions of light-years away, for example).
      * The Biblical account has “days” and “nights” (and if I remember plants?) before the sun is created.
      * Different animal and plant forms appear to have gradually appeared over a long period of time (re: the fossil record), instead of appearing all at once as in the creation account.

      • Scott Slaughter says:

        I like your answer, Jason, and agree 100%.

        Evolutionary biology isn’t my strong suit, but one of the main reasons I discounted the Biblical creation story is the fact that biology, genetics, and even our current medical science couldn’t exist without the theory of evolution being more than a theory. Evolution must be a fact because it forms the basis for modern genetics and biology.

        Then there is the story of Noah’s ark, and the worldwide flood. The idea that water flooded the entire earth is utterly incompatible with the geologic record.

        The problem is, it is easier to believe a book than it is to use one’s mind. God gave us a mind and a heart. I know what is true because I use both. I know what is true about the physical world because I use my mind. I know what is true about the spiritual world because I use my heart. If you search only your heart or only your mind for the truth, you can only find half the truth. To seek the whole truth, you must search your heart and your mind. And the truth will set you free.

  10. Scott Slaughter says:

    God gave me common sense and I applied it. What a concept, right?

  11. E says:

    Jason, the Gen 1 order is light and separation of light from darkness on day one, plants on day three, and sun on day four.

    Scott, might you have a comment about Jesus’ reference to the beginning in Matthew 19?

  12. Scott Slaughter says:

    I think what Jason is pointing out is that the Genesis account contradicts itself by creating day and night before He created the earth. A day is defined as one axial rotation of the earth, so without the earth, there can be no day and night.

    Do you mean Matt. 19:4? “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’?” I’m not sure how that is relevant to this conversation, but certainly, there was a first male and a first female of our species. There was a first dog, a first periwinkle, a first trilobyte, a first biological organism capable of sustaining life and reproducing, so it follows that there was a first pair of humans. Who they were and when and where they lived is lost to the ages, but there is good reason to believe that they lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

  13. E says:

    Actually Gen 1 begins by saying that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth is described as being formless, empty, dark, and having water. The next event is the creation of light.

    Earlier you had mentioned that you are a follower of the teachings of Jesus. When speaking about marriage in Matt 19, do you think Jesus’ referring to the first humans as being created and his quoting Gen 2:24 suggest that he is giving credence to the Genesis account?

    • Scott Slaughter says:

      You are right — there is no contradiction concerning day and night. However, others abound. For instance, in the first chapter God creates mankind, male and female, then in chapter 2 He creates them again, separately.

      And yes, Jesus gives credence to the creation story of Genesis. So do I. But that credence is spiritual in nature, not material.

      Jesus spoke in parables, did he not? They were stories that were not literally true. Does that make Jesus a liar? No, because in his parables he conveyed a greater truth, a spiritual truth.

      Science provides us with the truth about the physical universe and everything in it. The Bible provides us with the truth about God, the human soul, and the spiritual realm. The two should not be conflated, lest one be misled about both.

  14. E says:

    Re chapter 2, some would say it is just an expanded version or an elaboration on chapter 1.
    Be that as it may, I will be stepping away from our conversation for a while but will probably stop by again sometime in the future. I have enjoyed reading both of your posts. Thanks so much for your time!

    • Scott Slaughter says:

      This was a great mental exercise for me, and I enjoyed it as well. It caused me to question my beliefs, which I am always doing, and it forced me to articulate my beliefs in new ways. So, thanks to the both of you.

      While there is always doubt on my mind about my faith, I am highly confident in its veracity, because I feel its reality in my heart; I know Jesus is real because I experience Him personally. I wonder how atheists can be as certain of God’s nonexistence as I am of His existence.

  15. E says:

    Back again. Another question. Is there evidence that life arose spontaneously from the inanimate?

    • Jason says:

      Ah, a classic question! For me, the key here is that there is no fundamental qualitative difference between “life” and “inanimate” — they are both made up of protons, neutrons, electrons, etc. The idea that there is a “life force” / “vitalism” has turned out to be incorrect in my understanding. Therefore, what we call “life” is made up of the same physical building blocks as rocks and water, just in different configurations. Combine this perspective with principles of evolution (which apply to all physical systems, not just “life”, in my view), and it is not so unthinkable (yet still quite striking!) that all of the complexity we see would come about. I imagine you had self-replicating molecules that faced selection pressures and “evolved” over time to become the complexity we now refer to as “life”.

  16. E says:

    If there is no fundamental qualitative difference between “life” and “inanimate”, would it follow that there is no such thing as death?

    • Jason says:

      There is indeed death (to state the obvious!) — it is a different configuration of the same physical building blocks. There are “trees” and “rocks” and “elephants” and “humans” — they are different (as “life” is different from “death”) in that the configuration of matter is different for each.

      • E says:

        I’m sorry. I guess I misunderstood. I thought your 3-22 post was saying that there was no clear line of demarcation between what is alive and what is not.

        • Jason says:

          Hmmm, let me see if I can shed some light on my thoughts here, in that case. There are often many different ways to categorize things, such that under one categorization two things are “the same” and under another one they are “different”. For example, let’s say we have two people, Bill and Sue, and two dogs, Max and Caroline. In one way of thinking about things (dog vs. human), Bill and Sue go together and Max and Caroline go together. In another way of thinking about things (male vs. female), Bill and Max go together and Sue and Caroline go together.

          I think it’s the same with thinking about things like “living”, “inanimate”, and “death”. My point about saying that “living” and “inanimate” things are “the same” was simply that, in my view, they are all made of physical matter, and that there is no “life force” or essence beyond the physical which would make “life” different from “non-life”. Of course, from a different perspective, things that we generally refer to as “living” do typically differ from things we generally refer to as “inanimate” or “dead” — a living person is different from a deceased person, and a person is different from a rock. But in my view, those differences are that they are different configurations of matter, and no more.

          An analogy might be that a living person and a deceased person (sorry to be a bit morbid here!) are, in my view, different like a working dishwasher is different from a broken dishwasher. Are they different? Of course. Is there a non-physical “working dishwasher essence” present in one and not the other? I don’t believe so.

  17. E says:

    Thanks for the additional info. Let me ask my question a little differently. Is there evidence that what I would call inanimate (like soil or air or water) changed into something that I would call living, such as bacteria?

    • Jason says:

      Hmmm… well on one hand, the evidence is that there *are* bacteria / things you call living, which suggests that the “inanimate” did at some point change configuration into something you would call living :) So clearly, something happened such that at one point we had only so-called “inanimate” things, molecular compounds etc. but nothing organized to the scale of what we now know as “life”. Your question though, I imagine, is not whether this change took place (clearly it did, as we see the results), but *how* it took place.

      The short answer is that we don’t know yet, but we have some ideas about plausible mechanisms that could have been involved. Most likely it involved some kind of “self-replicating molecule”, basically molecules that can create copies of themselves in the presence of the necessary building blocks. Quite a number of such self-replicating molecules have been found, of different types — proteins, peptides, etc. if I am remembering correctly. Through chance, some of these molecules were probably modified over time, and with different such molecules, a “survival of the fittest” scenario would play out, such that some of them became more numerous than others. Further chance changes to these molecules could result in changes over time to these populations, and eventually the complexity could reach the stage of the “simplest” bacteria / viruses (which may have been very different from the ones we see today).

      So, basically, while the details are not yet known, this kind of change is well within the realm of possibility of our physical understanding of chemistry / “biology”. At least, that’s my understanding :)

  18. E says:

    Well, I didn’t ask my question correctly. What I was trying to ask about is evidence for a spontaneous change, which you surmised and addressed anyway. My conclusion so far is that we do not currently have evidence that the non-living came to life spontaneously, though there are thoughts about “might haves” and “could haves”. Thanks for taking the time to explain.

  19. Scott Slaughter says:

    Do either of you believe you have a soul? If so, is it merely a configuration of protons, neutrons and electrons? Or is it something else?

  20. Dani says:

    It is hard to reprogram your brain if the first programming was very intense. For example, if your anxiety, scepticism/atheism, self-harming etc. was installed into you by somebody close like a family member, friend, peers or boss then it is hard to overwrite it with imagination or even faith. Trauma-based programming is most difficult to erase. You need to find an equally intense source of counter-programming to reverse the effects. There are also other techniques like desensitization, drugs, psycho-therapy, hypnosis etc. Just remember that healthy brain is happy and that knowing the ultimate truth won’t save you. Actually, our brain is full of hard-wired lies and works great. Truth is overrated, I say.

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